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GM IPO boost good news for U.S. taxpayers

General Motors expanded its initial public offering by 31 percent, bringing taxpayers and the government closer to recouping their huge investment in the revitalized automaker.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

General Motors expanded its initial public offering Wednesday by 31 percent, bringing taxpayers and the Treasury Department closer to recouping their huge investment in the revitalized American automaker.

GM said in a statement it would increase the planned offering of common stock to 478 million shares from the previously expected 365 million shares, a sign of stronger-than-expected demand for a stake in the automaker that is just 16 months out of bankruptcy protection.

The move, coupled with an expected stock price of up to $33 per share, would bring the U.S. government closer to getting back the $50 billion it spent bailing out GM last year. It could also make GM's IPO the largest in history for a U.S.-based company.

GM plans to finalize the IPO share price on Wednesday. The share price is targeted at $32 to $33 per share.

The revised terms of the IPO could raise as much as $22.7 billion and take U.S. government ownership of the automaker down to as little as 33 percent from 61 percent.

The moves came after GM received orders worth about $70 billion for the common stock portion of the offering as of late Tuesday, a source familiar with the situation said.

GM announced earlier it would raise the offering price to $32 to $33 per share, up from a previously announced range of $26 to $29 per share.

The strong demand is good news for U.S. taxpayers and the Treasury, which is likely to take in more than $10 billion from the IPO proceeds while retaining a significant equity stake in the company. The Obama administration has said it would need to ultimately get $36 billion to break even, including $6 billion in pre-bankruptcy help given to GM and $30.1 billion in Chapter 11 exit financing.

Others have said the total taxpayer help extended to GM is worth closer to $50 billion.

If GM's stock price rises in the months and years after the offering, taxpayers will come closer to the break-even point. GM shares are expected to begin trading on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges Thursday.

The strong Wall Street reception for GM represents a win for the Obama administration after it chose to restructure GM in an unpopular, 2009 taxpayer-funded bankruptcy that left the automaker with the stigma that it had become "Government Motors."

GM is the first of a slate of auto-related companies — whose ranks include Chrysler Group LLC; Ally Bank , formerly known as GMAC; and parts supplier Delphi — expected to return to offer shares to the public in coming years.

Auto executives and analysts said the reversal in Wall Street sentiment toward an industry that had been shut out of the credit markets in 2008 and 2009 was a positive sign.

"This will give us a great, great precursor for the Chrysler IPO. I'm delighted; it couldn't have gone better," Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said on Tuesday night.

GM earned $5 billion in the first nine months of 2010 and is on track for its first full-year profit since 2004.

At the same time, the automaker has cautioned that fourth-quarter profit will be lower than the rate of the first three quarters because of vehicle launch costs and a higher proportion of less profitable small cars in its mix of production. GM's European unit also remains unprofitable.

In a road show for investors spearheaded by GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson and Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell, the automaker has emphasized both its sharply lower costs and its exposure to key growth markets like China.

"Anyone doing an IPO might want to use this as a case study -- it's so well-scripted," Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of auto tracking firm Edmunds, said in a blog posting.

One of the open questions remains whether GM's China partner, state-owned SAIC Motor Corp Ltd. will participate in the IPO and how much it will invest.

The two sides have negotiated new cooperation in areas such as electric car programs in talks that began this summer. Under a tentative deal, SAIC had agreed to invest about $500 million in GM pending Chinese government approval, people with knowledge of those discussions said.

But one person familiar with the matter said that as of Tuesday, China's Ministry of Commerce had not approved the SAIC investment.

Sources previously told Reuters that sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia separately had committed a combined $2 billion to GM's IPO.

Treasury will remain GM's largest shareholder after the IPO. The stake held by Canada could fall from 12 percent to just over 9 percent. The retiree health care trust affiliated with the United Auto Workers could see its stake drop from almost 20 percent to 13 percent.

U.S. officials have said it is likely to take until the next presidential term for the government to sell off all of its holdings in GM.

If the IPO prices at $33 per share, the U.S. government will need to see the stock rise by 47 percent to just over $48.50 to break even on its follow-on stock sales over the next several years.

At that level, GM would have a market value of over $90 billion. By comparison, its closest rival, Ford Motor Co , has a market capitalization of just $59 billion after a rally that has sent its stock up by 65 percent this year.

Obama administration officials have argued that it would represent a kind of success if the White House breaks even on the $30 billion that it committed to GM. Just over $19 billion in funding came from the Bush administration.

The GM bailout spared the automaker from liquidation and saved hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs at the company and its suppliers, officials have said.